News & Analysis

All-Expected Fantasy Football Team: Examining 2020's leaders in fantasy points above expectation

Nov 15, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 fantasy football season has come and gone. Stats were finalized and awards handed out based on the various accomplishments that professional football players achieved on the field.

The key word in the previous sentence is “achieved.” Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades; fantasy points aren’t awarded for players almost hauling in a deep ball or for nearly finding their way into the end zone.

The general idea behind expected fantasy points is to better access the opportunity players have been given. Volume trumps talent in fantasyland, but expected points can help show which players have overachieved or underachieved based directly on their workload.

What follows is PFF’s 2020 All-Expected Fantasy Football Team. Each first-team player managed to lead their respective position in fantasy points per game above expectation while meeting the minimum workload requirement. Honorable mention denotes the top-three next-closest outliers.

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Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers (+5.3 fantasy points above expectation per game)

The Packers’ longtime franchise QB averaged a career-low 17.4 fantasy points per game in 2019, turned 37 years old in December and entered virtually an identical offense in terms of coaches and personnel.

All Rodgers did with this situation was function as a world-beater week in and week out, posting career-high numbers in a variety of metrics along the way:

  • PFF passing grade: 94.3
  • Adjusted completion rate: 79.3%
  • QB Rating: 115.8
  • Pass TDs: 48

You bet your ass that Rodgers passed the eye test:

Rodgers said it best himself: “Down years for me are career years for most QBs.” Throw in a new weightlifting strategy with some positive TD regression, and the real life MVP emerged as fantasy football’s single-best QB in terms of fantasy points above expectation both per game and overall. 

Honorable mention: Ryan Tannehill (+4.5), Dak Prescott (+3.3), Kirk Cousins (+3.1)

Running back: Alvin Kamara (+4.7) and Nick Chubb (+4.5)

Kamara’s Week 16 explosion was good for the third-highest scoring game on championship Sunday in NFL history. Just the third non-QB to ever account for six scores in a single game, Kamara has been the RB1 in pure swag since the day he stepped on to an NFL football field; now he’s also the RB1 in the hearts of millions of faithful fantasy managers around the world thanks to his breathtaking Week 16 performance.

That day was built on the back of rushing success, but the main reason why Kamara managed to so vastly outperform expectations throughout the season was thanks to his fantasy-friendly receiving role. Overall, Kamara scored the 33rd-most PPR points on purely receiving production regardless of the position in 2020; his additional 932 rushing yards and 16 scores on the ground were largely the icing on the cake.

Constantly functioning as one of the league’s slipperiest ball carriers ever since entering the league in 2017 also hasn’t hurt:

  • 2020: 65 Elusive Rating (No. 13 among all RBs with 100-plus carries)
  • 2019: 70.6 (No. 8)
  • 2018: 44 (No. 26)
  • 2017: 108.5 (No. 1)

And then we have Chubb, who is a borderline alien with the ball in his hands. Arguably the single-best RB in the NFL, the Browns’ featured back has ridiculous balance, lateral ability and breakaway speed for a man his size.

There simply aren’t many RBs who can compete with Chubb in most tackle-breaking metrics:

  • PFF rushing grade: 92.2 (No. 2 among 97 RBs with 100 carries since 2018)
  • Yards per carry: 5.2 (No. 3)
  • Yards after contact per rush: 4 (tied for No. 2)
  • Forced missed tackles per attempt: 0.24 (tied for No. 2)
  • Total forced missed tackles on carries: 166 (No. 2)

Chubb doesn’t have the same sort of receiving prowess to compete with Kamara as a pure fantasy asset. Still, the Browns’ bell-cow RB’s ability to consistently make something out of nothing is every bit as ridiculous as any back we’ve seen in recent memory.

Honorable mention: Derrick Henry (+3.7), Dalvin Cook (+3.1), Jonathan Taylor (+2.6), J.K. Dobbins (+2.6)

Wide receiver: Davante Adams (+5.7) and Will Fuller (+4.5)

Adams had at least six catches in all 15 of his non-injury-shortened games in 2020. The Panthers (7-42-0) and Buccaneers (6-61-0) were the only defenses to keep him out of the end zone for 60 minutes. The reality that Adams achieved this without a single proven receiver elsewhere on the offense to help take away attention is even more incredible.

It’s hard to pinpoint the single best part of Adams’ game, but his excellence near the end zone is certainly a good place to start. Since 2016 nobody has scored more receiving TDs than Adams (29) inside the 10-yard line. Only Mike Evans (23) and Michael Thomas (21) are also in the 20-TD club. Only Jordy Nelson (63%) has a better TD rate than Adams (62%) among all wide receivers with at least 15 such targets during this span. All in all, Adams scored a league-high 6.4 TDs above expectation; A.J. Brown (+5.6) and Tyreek Hill (5.2) were the only other players over even four.

Trying to figure out who deserves more praise between Adams and Rodgers for any given brilliant connection is akin to the chicken or the egg argument. Regardless, any conversation without Adams surrounding the league’s best route-runner is a waste of time.

And then we have Fuller, who was going off in his first 11 games of the season before being suspended for PEDs. The consistent excellence on display was even better than you remember:

  • Week 1: 8 receptions-112 yards-0 TD
  • Week 2: 0-0-0
  • Week 3: 4-54-1
  • Week 4: 6-108-1
  • Week 5: 4-58-1
  • Week 6: 6-123-1
  • Week 7: 3-35-1
  • Week 9: 5-100-1
  • Week 10: 5-38-0
  • Week 11: 6-80-0
  • Week 12: 6-171-2

We’ll never know how much of Fuller’s 1) steady health, and 2) general baller play, had to do with the performance-enhancing drugs. We’ve seen how some anabolic steroids and beaver tranquilizers can really elevate a lesser talent over the years. Regardless, his performance on a relatively tame 6.8 targets per game was nothing short of remarkable. Only Davante Adams (2.96 yards per route run), Justin Jefferson (2.66), A.J. Brown (2.65), Julio Jones (2.6), Corey Davis (2.58), Stefon Diggs (2.51) and Calvin Ridley (2.44) were more efficient than Fuller (2.28) on a per-route basis.

Fuller ranked fourth and fifth in total receiving scores and yards above expectation among all wide receivers. The man was truly operating on a different level than the majority of his peers for the first three months of the season.

Honorable mention: Tyreek Hill (+4.4), A.J. Brown (+4.4), Justin Jefferson (+3.0)

Tight end: Robert Tonyan (+3.3)

Aaron Rodgers decided to throw the ball to Tonyan on 66 occasions in 2020. The results were as follows:

  • 60 completions
  • 668 receiving yards
  • 12 TDs
  • 6 incompletions
  • 0 drops

There have been 3,639 players get at least 50 targets in a season since the stat began being tracked in 1992. Only 2020 Tonyan had more TDs than incomplete targets — and he had a regular-season ratio of +4. Madness.

Haters will shout “regression!” — and they will assuredly be right come this time next year because how the hell is someone supposed to improve on this kind of performance? Whatever you want to make of Tonyan’s future, we need to realize that his performance in 2020 was nothing short of sensational. Overall, Tonyan (+52.2 PPR above expectation) set a three-year high at the position; only 2019 Jared Cook (+47.4) and 2020 Travis Kelce (+47.9) also managed to even clear the +35 threshold. 

Honorable mention: Travis Kelce (+3.2), George Kittle (+2.0), Darren Waller (+1.5)

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